The scene was intimidating; over 105,000 sporting red and white dominated the setting, making it difficult for the opposition to realize the situation they were placed in. As the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes broke out onto the field, the Cincinnati players looked over and watched the frenzy and mystique that’s automatically created when the first sight of the silver helmet becomes visible.
It’s a scene that intimidates most, but sophomore Mike Mickens was confident about the task at hand. The task was to stop all-world receiver Ted Ginn.
Mickens was aware of Ginn’s prowess, and during the first quarter he was able to combat the All-American, while the Bearcats took a 7 – 3 lead. After a slow start, the Buckeyes made an adjustment and stormed back with 34 unanswered points over the next three quarters and Ginn, who scored two touchdowns on crossing patterns, was a major reason for the decisive 37 - 7 victory.
“He [Ginn] was a real good athlete, real fast,” Mickens said. “He’s a playmaker. He can change a game in a second if you mess up with your technique. I had to bring my “A” game, but he was better than me on that day. He was the toughest receiver I ever matched up against.”
It was a stage that every player wants to perform on, to have the opportunity to shut down one of the best players in the country. Unfortunately, Ginn had the last laugh, but it was Mickens who now has the smile on his face.
Even though the Bearcats got dismantled at the hands of the top team in the country, the lesson that Mickens learned was valuable, and it gave him a new perspective entering his junior season.
“I watched a lot of film [that off-season], so I had a better understanding of what routes to expect and what the opposing teams like to do. I just did a lot of film study,” Mickens said.
That film study translated into success in a big way during the 2007 season. Mickens emerged as one of the premier cover corners in the nation, as he finished with 53 tackles and six interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
Mickens’ play is reminiscent of another premier cover corner from the Big East, former South Florida star Mike Jenkins. Mickens is familiar with Jenkins and also sees the similarities between the two.
“I’ve seen him play the last couple of years, and he’s a real good athlete,” Mickens said. “He’s a good playmaker. I just want to make plays like he did for South Florida, and if you make plays, you’re going to get noticed.”
Mickens ability as a playmaker will make him a sought after prospect in the 2009 draft.
Jenkins, who stayed at South Florida for four years, was a first round selection of the Dallas Cowboys in this past April’s draft. Despite being drafted 25th overall, Jenkins was mentioned as a possible top-15 selection. After Mickens’ breakout season last year, he flirted with the notion of leaving Cincinnati early for the NFL. But after receiving a third round draft grade from the advisory committee, Mickens decided that it was in his best interest to stay at Cincinnati.
“I thought [about leaving school for the NFL] a lot; a lot of people were telling me different things. I wasn’t too disappointed [with the third-round grade], because I know I need to improve more, and I’ll be able to showcase my talents even more this year.”
“I talked to my family; I talked to my coaches, and we all came to the conclusion that it would be best for me to come back to the team and help win a Big East championship. That’s something I haven’t done yet, and I wanted to be a part of something special here.”
Winning a Big East title could be challenging for the Bearcats this season, because of the five-game stretch (Rutgers, Connecticut, South Florida, West Virginia and Louisville) they face during October and into November. Mickens understands that winning the conference is a tough task, but believes if he’s able to reach his goal of ten interceptions and become one of the nation’s top defenders, it’s a realistic goal.
“We just have to win games,” he said. “Every game we just have to come out with the mindset that it’s a new week and we have to win. If we win, we will be OK.”
And if Cincinnati wins the Big East, advances to a BCS game and Mickens achieves the goals he sets forth, the potential of being a high first round pick in 2009 will be a reality for No. 21.
Mike Mickens, Cincinnati, 6-0, 190
Strengths: Mickens is a natural cover corner with great size and speed. He’s fluid off the line of scrimmage, transitions well with receivers and positions himself to make a play on the ball. He has great awareness, locates the ball quickly and has excellent ball skills. He plays with a lot of suddenness and is always looking to make a play. He plays with aggression and shows the desire to defend the run.
Weaknesses: A tremendous cover corner with great closing speed, Mickens occasionally gambles in defense and will give up a big play. He has to improve his tackling technique and take better angles in pursuit.
Steuber Says: There’s a lot to like about Mike Mickens. He’s one of the best cornerbacks that many have never heard of. A lot of that has to do with him playing in the Big East on a Cincinnati team that is very underrated. Mickens had six interceptions last season and brought two of them back for a touchdown. He could have opted to enter the draft last season and would have been a late second round pick, but with this year’s class not being as deep, Mickens is a potential top-15 selection in 2009.
Early 2009 Draft Projection: 1st Round
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.